In the year 1841, the family of my father’s brother Cornelius, sold out their land and their house, and went to America. In that house the priests used to have their dinner on “Conference” days in Ross. My uncle had recently died. His widow was Margaret, the daughter of Daniel O’Donoghue, who belonged to a family of O’Donoghues whom England had plundered. She had four daughters and two sons: Mary, Ellen, Julia, Margaret, Denis and Daniel. They settled first in Philadelphia. All the girls are dead; Julia died lately, a nun in a convent at Altoona, Penn. The two boys are living in Jackson, Tenn. It is that family started to bring out my father’s family from Ireland, when they heard in 1847 that my father died, and that we were evicted. One incident of the time that my uncle’s family left Ross made a picture in my mind that will remain in it forever. Sunday night a band of musicians came from Clonakilty, and they were playing at the house all night. It couldn’t be a happy Harvest-home festival. It was the sadder one of a breaking up of house and home. Monday morning those “Irish missioners” started for Cork. I joined the procession that went with them out of town. Out at Starkey’s, at Cregane, it halted. There, there was crying all around by the people, as if it was a party of friends they were burying in a graveyard.
I came back home with the company. My father was not able to go out of the house that day. He asked me all about the parting; and when I had told my story he commenced to cry, and kept crying for a half an hour or so. He made me ashamed of him, for here was I, a mere child, that was strong enough not to cry at all, and here was he, crying out loudly, as if he was a baby.
That’s the picture I cannot get out of my mind. But I cry now, in spite of me, while writing about it.
The English recruiting-soldiers would come to Ross those days and take many of the boys away with them, and then there was more crying of mothers, at having their children join the red-coats. Some man that I did not know was in our house for a few weeks. He remained in bed all the time. He had me at his bedside much of the time, telling me stories and playing with me. One dark night he came downstairs. The backdoor was opened, and out he went. I saw his shadow going up through the hill of the Fairfield. Mary Regan was the only strange woman in the house at the time, and she cryingly kissed and kissed the man before he left the house.
When I grew up to manhood I occasionally visited Ross, and Mary Regan would ullagone at seeing me, and draw a crowd around, telling of the little child who was the playmate of her boy when he was in the Hue and Cry on the run, and never told any one a word about his being for weeks in his father’s house. Her boy was Jemmie Regan, who had ’listed some time before that, and had deserted.
I saw another Ross deserter in the city of Lawrence, Mass., some quarter of a century ago. I was lecturing there one night. I was telling of Jillen Andy, whom I buried in the year 1847 without a coffin. A tall, grey-headed man in the audience commenced to cry, and came up to the platform to embrace me. I saw him in Ross when I was a child, when as a red-coat soldier he came home on furlough. He had lived next door to Jillen Andy. He was John Driscoll, the sister’s son of that North Cork militiaman, Dan Roe, of whom I have spoken in a previous chapter as having been at the battle of Vinegar Hill. This John Driscoll of Lawrence had deserted from the English Army in Canada, and reached America by swimming across the river St. Lawrence.
I am writing too much about crying in this chapter. It is no harm for me to add that I must have been a kind of cry-baby in my early days, for when I grew up to be big, the neighbors used to make fun of me, telling of the time I’d be coming home from school, and how I’d roar out crying for my dinner as soon as I’d come in sight of the house.
The life of my boyhood was a varied kind of life. I had as much to do as kept me active from morning till night. Early in the morning I had to be out of bed to drive the hens out of the fields. The two town fields were bounded at the eastern side by the Rock village, inhabited mostly by fishermen. The fishermen had wives; those wives had flocks of hens, and those flocks of hens at dawn of day would be into the fields, scraping for the seed sown in springtime, and pulling down the ripening ears of corn coming on harvest-time. No matter how early I’d be out of bed, the hens would be earlier in the field before me. My principal assistant in chasing them out and keeping them out was my little dog Belle. The hens knew Belle and knew me as well as any living creature would know another. But they were more afraid of Belle than of me, for when I’d show myself at the town side of the field, going toward them, they’d take their leisure leaving the field when Belle was not with me; but if Belle was with me, they’d run and fly for their lives.
Belle and I stole a march on them one day. We went a roundabout way to get to the rear of them. We went up Ceim hill, and by the old chapel schoolhouse, and down through the Rock. Then Belle went into the field and killed two of the hens. This brought on a war between the women of the Rock and my mother, and peace was made by having the Rock women agree to muffle up the legs of their hens in lopeens, so that they could not scratch up the seed out of the ground. It would not be a bad thing at all if the Irish people would take a lesson from me in my dealings with the hens of the Rock that were robbing my father’s fields—if they would do something that would make the English put lopeens upon her English landlord scratch-robbers of Ireland.
Approaching harvest-time, the work of my care-taking was doubled by my trying to protect the wheat-field from the sparrows that lived on the Rock and in the town. They knew me, too, and knew Belle. They, too, were more afraid of Belle than of me. I could not throw stones at them, for my father told me that every stone I threw into the cornfield would break some ears of corn, and if I continued throwing stones I would do as much damage as the sparrows were doing. I had a “clappers” to frighten them away, but a flock of these sparrows, each perched upon an ear of corn, and picking away at it, cared as little about the noise of my clappers as England cares about the noise Irish patriot orators make in trying to frighten her out of Ireland by working the clappers of their mouths.
My experience with the Irish crows was much the same as with the sparrows. There was a rookery convenient in the big trees in Beamish’s lawn, and flocks of those crows would come into the fields in springtime to scrape up grains of wheat, and skillauns of seed-potatoes. My father got some dead crows, and hung them on sticks in the fields, thinking that would frighten away the living crows. I don’t know could he have learned that from the English, who spiked the head of Shawn O’Neill on Dublin’s Castle tower, and the heads of other Irishmen on other towers, to frighten their countrymen away from trespassing upon England’s power in Ireland. Anyway, the Irish crows did not care much about my father’s scarecrows, nor about my clappers. It was only when a few shots were fired at them from guns, and a dozen of them left dead on the field, that they showed any signs of fear of again coming into the field.
A strange character of a man named Carthy Spauniach used to travel the roads I had to travel those days. The mothers would frighten their refractory children by saying, “I’ll give you to Carthy Spauniach.” He had the character of being a kind of madman. He seemed to have no fixed home, he had no appearance of a beggarman; nor did he go around our place begging; he was fairly, comfortably dressed; he walked with a quick pace; sometimes he’d stop and ask me who I was; then he’d tell me those fields and grounds belonged to my people once; that they ought to belong to my people now; but they belonged to strangers now, who had no right to them; that they ought to be mine. After talking that way for some time, he’d suddenly start away from me. Sane or insane, he spoke the truth. He was called a madman; but looking at him from this distance of half a century, I’d regard him as a victim of England’s plunder, who embraced the mission of preaching the true faith to the children of his plundered race. I know how men get a bad name, and are called madmen, for speaking and acting in the true faith regarding Ireland’s rights. I have myself been called a madman, because I was acting in a way that was not pleasing to England. The longer I live, the more I come to believe that Irishmen will have to go a little mad my way, before they go the right way to get any freedom for Ireland.
And why shouldn’t an Irishman be mad; when he grows up face to face with the plunderers of his land and race, and sees them looking down upon him as if he were a mere thing of loathing and contempt! They strip him of all that belongs to him, and make him a pauper, and not only that, but they teach him to look upon the robbers as gentlemen, as beings entirely superior to him. They are called “the nobility,” “the quality”; his people are called the “riffraff—the dregs of society.” And, mind you! some of our Irish people accept that teaching from them, and act and speak up to it. And so much has the slavery of it got into their souls, and into the marrow of their bones, that they to-day will ridicule an O’Byrne, an O’Donnell, an O’Neill, an O’Sullivan, a MacCarthy, a MacMahon or Maguire, if they hear him say that such and such a Castle in Ireland and such and such a part of the lands of Ireland belonged to his people. It is from sneerers and slaves of that kind that the “stag” and the informer come; the Irishman who is proud of his name and his family and his race, will rarely or never do anything to bring shame and disgrace upon himself or upon any one belonging to him.
Another odd character besides Carthy Spauniach used to travel my road occasionally. His day was Sunday. Every fine Sunday he’d be dressed up in the height of fashion, walking backward and forward this road that I had to walk to guard the crops from the birds of the air and the hens of the hamlet. This man’s name was Mick Tobin; his passion was in his person; he was a big, hearty, good-looking man, some thirty years of age; he fancied that every girl that would look at him couldn’t look at him without falling in love with him, and every fine Sunday he’d be walking that strand road between the Rock and Beamish’s gate, that the Miss Hungerfords and the Miss Jenningses and the other “ladies of quality” may see him as they were coming from church, and that he may see them.
If I told Mick, after the ladies had passed him, that I heard one of them say to her companion, “What a handsome man he is?” I’d be the white headed boy with Mick. Mick’s strong weakness ran in the line of love and self-admiration. I have often thought of him, for in my wandering walk of life I have met men like him, met them in the line of Irish revolution, looking upon themselves as the beauties of creation, and imagining that the whole Irish race should look upon them as the heaven-sent leaders of the movement for Irish freedom. God help their poor foolish heads! I bring that expression from my mother, “God help your poor foolish head!” she’d say to me when I’d be telling her of the things I’d do for Ireland when I grew up to be a man. Ah! my mother was Irish. I saw her in 1848 tear down the placard the peelers had pasted upon the shutters, telling the people that Lamartine, in the name of France, had refused to give any countenance to the Dublin Young Ireland delegation that went over to Paris with an address.
I’ll speak more about that matter when I grow older.
John Dowling, of Limerick, met me yesterday in Broadway, New York, and told me I forgot “My Mother.” I looked interrogatingly at him. “Ah,” said he, “don’t you remember the poem that was in the schoolbooks about “My Mother”—you forgot to say anything about it in what you wrote in the paper last week.” “You’re right, John, you’re right,” said I; “I did forget her:
Who ran to take me when I fell,
And would some pretty story tell,
And kiss the part to make it well.
“And you also left out,” said he, these two lines in the “Signs of Rain”:
Low o’er the grass the swallow wings,
The cricket, too, how sharp he sings!
“Right there, too,” said I. “But it shows that what I said was true—that I was quoting from memory, and that I was not looking into books to see whether my memory was right or wrong.”
Oh, no, Mr. Dowling, I don’t forget my mother, a tall, straight, handsome woman, when I was a child; looking stately in the long, hooded cloak she used to wear; a prematurely old, old woman when I saw her in this foreign land some years after, looking older by wearing an American bonnet instead of an Irish cloak, when I saw her Philadelphia in 1863.
I was up on the half-hatch of the door at home one day; I was looking at Lord Carbery’s hounds passing by—Geary, the huntsman, sounding the bugle; the horses prancing, carrying the “quality,” booted and spurred, and dressed in their hunting jackets of green and gold and orange. After they had passed, I came down from my perch on the half-hatch, and I heard my mother say of them to Kit. Brown:
“Ah! ’Ta oor la aguiv-se ’sa saol-seo, acht, beig aar la aguinne ’sa sao’l eile.”
Ah you have your day in this world; but we’ll have our day in the next.
This resignation to the existing condition of things in the fallen fortunes of our people was on the tongue of my mother. I don’t know that it was in her heart or in her spirit. I do not think it was. Our priests preached it. I do not think it was in their heart either. It couldn’t be; they were Irish, and belonged to the plundered race. But—but what? I don’t know: Father Jerry Molony knew as well as any priest living how his congregation came to be poor; when the Soupers would come to the parish to bribe the people into becoming Sassenachs, he’d say there were people present in the congregation whose families gave up all they had in the world rather than give up their faith. My family claimed the honor of that, and prided in it. The priest had no other consolation to give, but the consolation of religion, and, very likely, it was through religion my father and mother learned—and tried—to lighten the load of life, by telling us that the poorer you are the nearer you are to God, and that the more your sufferings are in this world the greater will be your reward in the next.
If that be gospel truth, and I hope it is, there are no people on earth nearer to heaven than the Irish people.